One more gripe I have had for over 10 yrs now is the monopoly of It's A Wonderful Life. Everyone has seen the Frank Capra classic a trillion times I am sure. But this film has been locked into a 2 time airing only a year on NBC when there was the whole copyright thing and Universal/Republic years ago. NBC decided it would own the ratings the night it was shown.
OK...well here is the current situation with regards to the film itself.
The copyright for the film was accidentally allowed to lapse in 1974. Liberty Films was purchased by Paramount Pictures, and remained a subsidiary until 1951. Paramount owned the film until 1955, when they sold a few of their features and most of their cartoons and shorts to television distributor U.M.&M. TV. Corporation. This included key rights to It's a Wonderful Life
, including the original television syndication rights, the original nitrate film elements, the music score and the story on which the film is based, "The Greatest Gift". National Telefilm Associates (NTA) took over the rights to the U.M.& M. library soon afterward. However, a clerical error at NTA prevented the copyright from being renewed properly in 1974.
Despite the lapse in copyright, television stations that aired it still were required to pay royalties. Although the film's images had entered the public domain, the film's story was still protected by virtue of it being a derivitave work
of the published story "The Greatest Gift," whose copyright was properly renewed by Philip Van Doren Stern in 1971. By coincidence, the film became a perennial holiday favorite in the 1980s, possibly due to the advent of the home video era. It was sometimes mentioned during the deliberations on the Copyright Term Extension Act
In 1993, Republic Pictures
, which was the successor to NTA, relied on the 1990 U.S. Supreme Court
ruling in Stewart v. Abend
(which involved another Stewart film, Rear Window)
to enforce its claim of copyright. While the film's copyright had not been renewed, it was a derivative work of various works that were still copyrighted. As a result, the film is no longer shown as much on television. (NBC
is currently licensed to show the film on U.S. network television, and only shows it traditionally twice during the holidays, with one showing primarily on Christmas Eve from 8-11 Eastern time) and now Paramount (via parent company Viacom
's 1998 acquisition of Republic's then-parent, Spelling Entertainment
) once again has ancillary rights for the first time since 1955. Artisan Entertainment
(under license from Republic) took over home video rights in the mid-1990s.
Artisan was later sold to Lions Gate Entertainment
, which continued to hold home video rights until late 2005 when they reverted to Paramount.
So since NBC has a host of other networks under its belt...including deals with USA Network, TNT, CNBC, Sleuth, and others....why not show the film on any of these channels over the holidays? Why hold it hostage for just 2 nights out of the year?
Let NBC affiliates run it only whenever they want to.